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Homily for Epiphany 2013

Epiphany, Year C
Isaiah 60:1-6
Ephesians 3:2-3a, 5-6
Matthew 2:1-12
January 6, 2013

Christmas is a season to be very aware of Jesus’ presence in the world.  Today we celebrate The Epiphany of the Lord but Christmas is really a season of epiphanies.

The word epiphany primary meaning is “appearance” or “manifestation.”  As we celebrate The Epiphany we celebrate the appearance of Jesus before the Magi.

Christmas day itself is another epiphany; the day became visibly presence among us.  Next week we will celebrate the Baptism of Jesus.  In his baptism, Jesus identity as the Son of God was made known and so his baptism is another epiphany.

Why all these epiphanies?

Of course, the first point is that Jesus is made known in the world.  But there is another meaning of the word epiphany.  It can also meaning insight.

In these epiphanies we are given insight to who Jesus is and how the world of that time related to who Jesus was.

So let’s focus on The Epiphany of the Lord.  It only seems fitting since it is the feast we celebrate today.

It is a familiar story to us.  The Magi see a new star.  It was a common belief of that time that each time a new ruler was born a new star appeared.  The Magi is gifted to realize that the particular new star they see is for the newborn king of the Jews.

So the Magi begin their journey following the star.  They stop to see King Herod.  King Herod is greatly troubled by the news of a newborn king for the Jews.  He’s troubled because he is the King of the Jews, so he sees Jesus as a threat to him.  He wants to have him killed.  The Magi continue on their way to Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  They see Jesus and then return home, avoiding Herod, having been warned about his true intentions.

It’s a story familiar to us.  It’s a regular part of how the Christmas story is told.  It’s a good story that points to Jesus’ greatness.

But I think we can look a little deeper for more insight.  In scripture there is often a surface meaning that is fairly readily seen and there is often a deeper meaning to go with it.

Think about it this way.  Why include the story?  Why do the Magi stop to talk to Herod when they are already guided by the star?  Bethlehem was a little town.  They could have managed without stopping for directions.

To look deeper, we must understand who the characters are in the story.

First, there are the Magi.  We typically say there were three of them because there were three gifts.  Today we say “magi” but they have frequently referred to as “kings” or “wise men.”

The scholars now see the Magi as astrologers.  What is more important to the story is that they were not Jews.  They were Gentiles.  Yet they recognize Jesus as the newborn king of the Jews.

Then there is King Herod.  He’s actually a Jew but he doesn’t know of the prophecies about the coming messiah.  He needs to ask the chief priests and scribes what the prophecies say about the birthplace of the messiah.

The Jews had been waiting for centuries for the messiah.  If Herod was a true disciple, he would have known the prophecies and even more so, he should have been excited at the news that the Messiah has finally come.

Ironic that the Jews are troubled by the news of a messiah but the Gentile Magi travel a great distance.

The Messiah was to come for the Jews but in turn accepts everyone.

Part of the insight this story gives us is to realize that salvation is a gift, first offered to the Jews and now to all.  We need to accept this gift.

The Magi were guided by the light of the star to Jesus.  Jesus is the Light of the World.  Giving the insight that Jesus has given us to what it means to be a disciple, how might we be a star shining brightly to lead others to Jesus?

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